Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Catholic Education, I detailed a more hopeful example than Michigan: Arizona. Total charter school enrollment is 12.5 percent higher in Arizona than in Michigan, despite the fact that Michigan’s population is far larger than Arizona’s. Arizona, however, has two factors working for it that Michigan does not. Arizona has both a growing student population and private school choice programs (two tax credit programs and two voucher programs).
Catholic education is anything but wilting in Arizona. Between 2004 and 2006, schools in the Diocese of Phoenix saw a two percent increase in enrollment against a national decline. Two new Catholic schools opened in the 2006-2007 school year, with four more scheduled to open. Marybeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Phoenix stated that the tax credit program has been “critical to keeping financially struggling families in the Catholic school system.”
Arizona private school attendance has increased outside of the Catholic schools as well. Despite the opening of hundreds of charter schools, the percentage of Arizona children attending private schools increased by 23 percent between 1991 and 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Parents must pay public school taxes even if they do their fellow taxpayers the service of placing them in a private school at their own expense. If parents decide to seek an education they find a private for their children, they effectively pay twice- once when they pay taxes, another when they pay tuition and fees. Both tax credits and school vouchers can reduce this double payment penalty, expanding access to private schooling. In the process, competition will improve the performance of public schools by expanding competition for students, and (in states like Arizona) reduce public school overcrowding.
Arizona and Michigan have both enjoyed the large benefits of charter schools. The starkly different trends in private schooling suggest strongly that choice supporters must redouble their efforts on the private choice side.